Bonnie Watson Coleman
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New Jersey's 12th district
Assumed office
January 3, 2015
Preceded byRush Holt Jr.
Majority Leader of the
New Jersey General Assembly
In office
January 12, 2006 – January 12, 2010
Preceded byJoseph J. Roberts
Succeeded byJoseph Cryan
Member of the New Jersey General Assembly
from the 15th district
In office
January 13, 1998 – January 3, 2015
Serving with Reed Gusciora
Preceded byShirley Turner
Succeeded byElizabeth Maher Muoio
Personal details
Bonnie M. Watson[1]

(1945-02-06) February 6, 1945 (age 79)
Camden, New Jersey, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
William Coleman
(m. 1995)
EducationRutgers University
Thomas Edison State University (BA)
WebsiteHouse website

Bonnie M. Watson Coleman (born February 5, 1945) is an American politician serving as the U.S. representative for New Jersey's 12th congressional district since 2015. A member of the Democratic Party, she previously served in the New Jersey General Assembly from 1998 to 2015 for the 15th legislative district. She is the first African-American woman to represent New Jersey in the U.S. House of Representatives.[2]

Watson Coleman was born in Camden, New Jersey, and attended Rutgers University before receiving a B.A. from Thomas Edison State College in 1985. She began her career in the New Jersey state government, working for the New Jersey State Division on Civil Rights and later serving as director of the Office of Civil Rights, Contract Compliance and Affirmative Action in the New Jersey Department of Transportation. In the New Jersey General Assembly, she held the position of Majority Leader from 2006 to 2010.

In 2014, Watson Coleman ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in New Jersey's 12th congressional district to succeed retiring Representative Rush Holt. She won the Democratic primary and later the general election, becoming the first African-American woman elected to represent a New Jersey district in Congress. In the House, she is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus, among other caucuses. She co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls in 2016, as well as the America 250 Caucus to help plan activities for America's semiquincentennial commemoration in 2026.

In the assembly, Watson Coleman's legislative work included criminal justice reform, expanding Urban Enterprise Zones, and expanding paid family leave. In Congress, she introduced the CROWN Act to prohibit hair discrimination and has sponsored other anti-discrimination legislation. She has pursued criminal justice reform through legislation on banning contracts to private prisons and worked to expand health coverage for pregnant women with the Affordable Care Act. Watson Coleman has co-sponsored a ceasefire resolution in response to the Israel-Hamas War.[3]

Early life and career

Watson Coleman was born in Camden, New Jersey on February 6, 1945 and graduated from Ewing High School in 1963.[4][5]

Watson Coleman worked for the New Jersey state government for over 28 years before retiring. She began her career in the New Jersey State Division on Civil Rights in Newark as a field representative in the late 1960s. She then joined the Office of Civil Rights, Contract Compliance and Affirmative Action in the New Jersey Department of Transportation, serving as its first director from 1974 to 1980.[6][4] In 1980, she joined the Department of Community Affairs first as bureau chief before being promoted to assistant commissioner.[6] In this position, she was responsible for the aging, community resources, public guardian, and women divisions.[4] In 1985, she received a B.A. from Thomas Edison State College after briefly attending Rutgers University.[5][4]

In 1994, she joined her father, John S. Watson, a representative in the New Jersey General Assembly for six terms, in establishing a human resources development firm.[4] However, the partnership was short-lived, as he passed away in 1996.[6]

Watson Coleman served on the Governing Boards Association of State Colleges from 1987 to 1998 and as its chair from 1991 to 1993. She was a member of the Ewing Township Planning Board from 1996 to 1997, a member of The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey board of trustees from 1981 to 1998 and was its chair from 1990 to 1991.[7]

General assembly

Election results for the 15th legislative district by municipality in 2013, the final campaign that Watson Coleman ran in for Assembly
Giordano/Taylor:      50–60%      60–70%
Gusciora/Watson Coleman:      50–60%      60–70%      80–90%

In 1998, incumbent Representative Shirley Turner of the 15th district decided to run for the New Jersey Senate.[6] Being the same district her father represented, Watson Coleman joined the race. Her and Democrat Reed Gusciora won the election against two Republican candidates.[8] She served the district until 2015, representing Trenton and parts of Mercer and Hunterdon counties.[6][9] She later became the first African American woman to lead the state party when she was elected chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee on February 4, 2002, serving until 2006. Watson Coleman served as Majority Leader of the New Jersey General Assembly from 2006 to 2010.[6]

Her legislative achievements in the assembly include increasing the minimum wage, the Paid Family Leave Act, creating the Office of the Comptroller, and expanding Urban Enterprise Zones.[10] She took an active role in identity theft protection[11] and criminal justice reform to reduce recidivism.[12]

She was a member of the joint legislative investigative committee probing the closing of lanes on the George Washington bridge, later known as Bridgegate. She resigned from the committee in early 2014 after calling for Governor Chris Christie to resign.[13]

U.S. House of Representatives


Following the announcement that Congressman Rush Holt would not seek another term in office, Watson Coleman announced her candidacy for the seat in New Jersey's 12th congressional district in early 2014.[14] Several other candidates joined the primary, including senator Linda Greenstein, assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, and resident Andrew Zwicker.[15] The primary was considered competitive between Greenstein and Watson Coleman, with each picking up key local endorsements.[15] On June 3, Watson Coleman won the Democratic primary with 43% of the vote.[15][16] With 60.9% of the vote,[16] she defeated Republican nominee Alieta Eck and several third party candidates in the November 4 general election[17] Watson Coleman's win made her the first African-American woman elected to represent a New Jersey district in the U.S. House of Representatives.[18]

Watson Coleman ran for reelection in 2016. In the primary, she faced off against Alexander Kucsma, a former mayor and pro-gun, anti-abortion Democrat.[19] She won the primary with 93.6% of the vote.[16] In the general election, she defeated Republican meat wholesaler Steven Uccio with 62.9% of the vote.[16][20] Watson Coleman spent $630,000 in the race, while Uccio spent none.[20]

In 2018, she ran uncontested in the Democratic primary. She easily won reelection against Republican Daryl Kipnis, receiving 68.7% to 31.3% of the vote.[16] Watson Coleman spent around $828,000 while Kipnis spent around $23,000.[21]

She faced off against perennial candidate Lisa McCormick in the 2020 Democratic primary. McCormick attempted to steal Watson Coleman's identity and used anti-Semitic tropes in her campaign. Watson Coleman won with over 90% of the vote.[22] Watson Coleman later thanked the secretary of state for referring the candidates to the attorney general's office for investigation.[23] She easily won the general election against Republican Mark Razzoli, an Old Bridge Township councilman with 65% of the vote.[24][16] Watson Coleman spent around $819,000 while Razzoli only spent around $1,100.[21]

In the 2022 primary, she ran uncontested. She defeated Republican Darius Mayfield with 63% of the vote in the general election.[16] She spent around $959,000 while Mayfield spent $259,000.[21]

Watson Coleman won the 2024 Democratic primary against former Princeton school board member Daniel Dart with about 87% of the vote.[25]


Watson Coleman speaking in 2017 to the New Jersey National Guard

Watson Coleman has been described as a "progressive"[25] and is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.[26] She is a member of the Democratic Party.[25]

During the 114th Congress, as a member of the Homeland Security committee, she introduced the Homeland Security Drone Assessment and Analysis Act to research and mitigate the risks of drones; the House passed the legislation by voice vote.[27] She introduced the Healthy MOM Act to allow women to enroll in, or change their health coverage if they become pregnant.[28] She also introduced the Stop Online Ammunition Sales Act which would require ID confirmation to purchase ammo on the internet.[29] On March 3, 2015, Watson Coleman participated with fellow Democrats in a boycott of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress.[30] In March 2016, she co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls with Representatives Robin Kelly and Yvette D. Clarke to address the socioeconomic issues affecting black women and girls.[31]

In 2017, Watson Coleman introduced the Customer Non-Discrimination Act to prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in “public accommodations."[32] That same year, she, alongside Representatives Jerry Nadler and Pramila Jayapal, introduced a resolution to censure President Donald Trump for his remarks at Charlottesville.[33] She introduced the End For-Profit Prisons Act of 2017 to phase out private prison contracts.[6]

In 2019, she voted against a resolution opposing efforts to boycott Israel and the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement targeting Israel; the resolution passed 398–17.[34] In October 2020, Watson Coleman co-signed a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that condemned Azerbaijan’s offensive operations against the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, denounced Turkey’s role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and called for an immediate ceasefire.[35]

Watson Coleman introduced the CROWN Act in 2021 to prohibit hair discrimination; the bill passed the House but died in the Senate;[36] the bill was reintroduced in 2024.[37] In 2022, she and other representatives were arrested at an abortion rights rally outside the Supreme Court.[38] She sponsored the Semiquincentennial Commemorative Coin Act to celebrate America's 250th anniversary.[39] Alongside a group of other representatives, she reintroduced the Protect Black Women and Girls Act to esablish a task force to examine the experiences of black women and girls.[40] Watson Coleman has co-sponsored a ceasefire resolution in response to the Israel-Hamas War.[3]

Committee assignments

Caucus memberships

Watson Coleman is a Co-founder and Co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls and the America 250 Caucus. Prominent caucuses she is a member of are below.[26]

Personal life

Coleman speaking at the 2017 Women's March in Trenton, New Jersey

In 1972, Watson Coleman married Jim Carter and had one son. They divorced in the early 1980s. In 1995, she married William Coleman. He has two sons from a previous marriage.[41] She is Baptist and resides in Ewing Township.[4][42]

Watson Coleman's two sons, William Carter-Watson and Jared C. Coleman, pleaded guilty to holding up the Kids "R" Us store at Mercer Mall with a handgun as it was about to close on March 12, 2001; they were sentenced to seven years in prison and served five and a half years. Watson Coleman has acknowledged it in the past and sponsored an Assembly bill that became law to prevent employers with more than 15 employees from asking job applicants if they have a criminal history. Watson Coleman argued for the law, saying, "One of the greatest barriers to a second chance in the state of New Jersey is a barrier to employment." In 2014, her son William Carter-Watson was hired by the Mercer County Park Commission as an entry-level laborer. When asked for comment, Brian Hughes, the County Executive, said, "the county has maintained a policy of hiring ex-convicts in search of a second chance".[43][44]

Watson Coleman has received honorary doctorate degrees from the College of New Jersey, Rider University, and Stockton University.[2]


In the summer of 2018, Watson Coleman underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor.[45] Watson Coleman tested positive for COVID-19 on January 11, 2021. She believed she contracted the virus from Republican colleagues who refused to wear masks while they sheltered together during the 2021 storming of the Capitol.[46] She underwent back surgery to treat lumbar spinal stenosis in June 2024.[47]

Electoral history

New Jersey's 12th congressional district: Results 2014–2022
Year Democratic Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct
2014 Bonnie Watson Coleman 90,430 60.9% Alieta Eck 54,168 36.5% Don Dezarn Independent 1,330 0.9% Steven Welzer Green 890 0.6% *
2016 181,430 62.9% Steven J. Uccio 92,407 32.0% R. Edward Forchion Independent 6,094 2.1% Robert Shapiro Independent 2,775 1.0% **
2018 173,334 68.7% Daryl Kipnis 79,041 31.3%
2020 230,883 65.6% Mark Razzoli 114,591 32.6% R. Edward Forchion Independent 4,512 1.3% Ken Cody Independent 1,739 0.5%
2022 125,127 63.1% Darius Mayfield 71,175 35.9% Lynn Genrich Libertarian 1,925 1.0%

* Independent candidates Kenneth J. Cody, Jack Freudenheim and Allen J. Cannon received 0.4%, 0.4% and 0.3% respectively.
** Libertarian candidate Thomas Fitzpatrick, Green candidate Steven Welzer and Independent candidate Michael R. Bollentin received 0.9%, 0.7% and 0.4% respectively.

See also


  1. ^ "Lee, et al. v. Trump, et al". Cohen Milstein. April 9, 2021. Retrieved June 17, 2024.
  2. ^ a b "Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman". America250. U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission. Retrieved June 17, 2024.
  3. ^ a b Adely, Hannan (October 20, 2023). "In this Palestinian community, frustration grows as politicians ignore calls for cease-fire". North Jersey Media Group. Retrieved July 2, 2024.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Manual of the Legislature of New Jersey: Two Hundred and Eleventh Legislature (First Session). Newark, NJ: Skinder-Strauss Associates. 2004. p. 266. ISBN 978-1-57741-187-1.
  5. ^ a b United States Congress. "Bonnie Watson Coleman (id: W000822)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "Bonnie Watson Coleman". New Jersey Equal Justice Library and Archive. 2024.
  7. ^ "Bonnie Watson Coleman". Archives of Women's Political Communication. Iowa State University. Retrieved June 17, 2024.
  8. ^ "General Election Returns for the Office of State Assembly" (PDF). New Jersey Secretary of State. November 4, 1997.
  9. ^ "215th Legislative Districts" (PDF). New Jersey Secretary of State.
  10. ^ Bichao, Sergio (June 8, 2014). "A Woman in the House". The Central New Jersey Home News. pp. A1–A2.
  11. ^ "N.J. bill seeks ID theft protection". Philadelphia Business Journal. May 3, 2005. Retrieved July 5, 2024.
  12. ^ "Program would help ex-prisoners". New Jersey Herald. November 15, 2009. Retrieved July 5, 2024.
  13. ^ Serrano, Ken (February 28, 2014). "Watson Coleman quits investigative committee after criticism of her call for Christie to resign". Fort Collins Coloradoan. Retrieved June 18, 2024.
  14. ^ Davis, Mike (February 21, 2014). "Mercer County Democrats rally support for Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman's campaign for Congress". Times of Trenton. Retrieved June 18, 2024.
  15. ^ a b c Davis, Mike (June 4, 2014). "Watson Coleman wins Democratic primary for 12th congressional district". Retrieved June 4, 2014.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g "Bonnie Watson Coleman". Ballotpedia. Retrieved June 18, 2024.
  17. ^ Davis, Mike (November 5, 2014). "With Bonnie Watson Coleman's 12th District win, local Democrats will pick Assembly successor". Times of Trenton. Retrieved June 2, 2018.
  18. ^ D'Amico, Diane (October 6, 2015). "Civil rights struggle still alive in US, Watson Coleman tells Stockton symposium". Press of Atlantic City. Retrieved July 5, 2024.
  19. ^ Tyrrell, Robin Traum, Joe (May 31, 2016). "Bonnie Watson Coleman Challenged by 'Liberty Tea Democrat' In 12th". NJ Spotlight News. Retrieved June 18, 2024.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  20. ^ a b "Democrat Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman wins re-election in New Jersey". WHYY-TV. Associated Press. November 9, 2016. Retrieved June 18, 2024.
  21. ^ a b c "Bonnie Watson Coleman". OpenSecrets. Retrieved June 18, 2024.
  22. ^ Biryukov, Nikita (July 8, 2020). "Watson Coleman triumphs over perennial candidate Lisa McCormick". New Jersey Globe. Retrieved June 18, 2024.
  23. ^ "Watson Coleman Thanks Secretary Way for Referring McCormick and Devine to Attorney General's Office for Investigation". InsiderNJ. April 14, 2021. Retrieved July 5, 2024.
  24. ^ Salvadore, Sarah (November 4, 2020). "Watson Coleman Wins NJ 12th Congressional District, Says AP". Patch Media. Retrieved June 18, 2024.
  25. ^ a b c Fox, Joey (June 5, 2024). "Watson Coleman easily wins renomination against former Princeton school board member". New Jersey Globe. Retrieved June 18, 2024.
  26. ^ a b "Caucus Membership". Retrieved June 18, 2024.
  27. ^ "Watson Coleman Drone Bill Passes in the House". June 23, 2015. Retrieved July 2, 2024.
  28. ^ McVeigh-Berzok, Maureen (June 26, 2015). "Healthy Moms Act Supported by Watson Coleman and Local Groups". TAPinto. Retrieved July 2, 2024.
  29. ^ Wheeler, Lydia (May 13, 2015). "Dem bill targets online ammo sales". The Hill. Retrieved July 2, 2024.
  30. ^ Lillis, Mike (March 3, 2015). "WHIP LIST: 56 Democrats to skip Netanyahu speech to Congress". The Hill. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  31. ^ Helm, Angela (March 26, 2016). "3 Black Congresswomen Create 1st Caucus on Black Women and Girls". The Root. Retrieved July 5, 2024.
  32. ^ "Customer Non-Discrimination Act". Human Rights Campaign. October 16, 2020. Retrieved July 2, 2024.
  33. ^ "3 representatives want to officially censure Trump after Charlottesville". ABC News. August 18, 2017. Retrieved July 2, 2024.
  34. ^ Foran, Clare (July 24, 2019). "Who voted 'no' on the House resolution opposing Israel boycott movement". CNN Politics. Retrieved July 2, 2024.
  35. ^ "Senate and House Leaders to Secretary of State Pompeo: Cut Military Aid to Azerbaijan; Sanction Turkey for Ongoing Attacks Against Armenia and Artsakh". The Armenian Weekly. October 2, 2020.
  36. ^ Griffith, Janelle (March 18, 2022). "House passes Crown Act banning discrimination against Black hairstyles". NBC News. Retrieved July 2, 2024.
  37. ^ Duster, Chandelis (May 2, 2024). "New Jersey rep. reintroduces federal CROWN Act legislation to ban hair discrimination". 6 ABC. CNN. Retrieved July 2, 2024.
  38. ^ Schnell, Mychael (July 19, 2022). "Democrats including Pressley, Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib arrested at abortion rights rally outside Supreme Court". The Hill. Retrieved July 5, 2024.
  39. ^ Meredith, Stephanie (September 8, 2023). "Semiquincentennial Coin Program | U.S. Mint". United States Mint. Retrieved July 2, 2024.
  40. ^ Daniels, Cheyanne (February 14, 2024). "Congressional leaders reintroduce bipartisan Protect Black Women and Girls Act". The Hill. Retrieved July 5, 2024.
  41. ^ Ginsberg, Wendy (May 5, 2002). "IN PERSON; The Family Business". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 17, 2024.
  42. ^ Fox, Joey (June 5, 2024). "Watson Coleman easily wins renomination against former Princeton school board member". New Jersey Globe. Retrieved June 17, 2024.
  43. ^ McEvoy, James (November 12, 2014). "Mercer County hires Bonnie Watson Coleman's son to entry-level parks position". Retrieved January 19, 2017.
  44. ^ Wilson, Tony; Frost, Soctt (April 10, 2001). "Watson Coleman's sons plead guilty in robbery". The Trentonian. MediaNews Group, Inc. Retrieved April 20, 2024.
  45. ^ Johnson, Brent (November 2, 2018). "N.J. congresswoman recovering after cancerous tumor was removed". NJ Advance Media. Retrieved January 11, 2021.
  46. ^ Jones, Zoe Christen; Dakss, Brian (January 11, 2021). "Congresswoman tests positive for COVID-19 after attack on Capitol". CBS News. Retrieved January 11, 2021.
  47. ^ Salvadore, Sarah (June 6, 2024). "Watson Coleman To Undergo Surgery In Mercer, To Miss Some Votes In D.C." Patch Media. Retrieved June 17, 2024.
New Jersey General Assembly Preceded byJoseph J. Roberts Majority Leader of the New Jersey General Assembly 2006–2010 Succeeded byJoseph Cryan Party political offices Preceded byJoseph J. Roberts Chair of the New Jersey Democratic Party 2002–2006 Succeeded byJoseph Cryan U.S. House of Representatives Preceded byRush D. Holt Jr. Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New Jersey's 12th congressional district 2015–present Incumbent U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial) Preceded byNorma Torres United States representatives by seniority 178th Succeeded byBruce Westerman